Tue, Jun 13, 2006 - Page 1 News List

Taiwan to offer deal to France on Lafayette case: report

By Rich Chang, Shih Hsiu-chuan and Jewel Huang  /  STAFF REPORTERS

The government will ask France to hand over confidential information about the kickback and murder scandal involving Taiwan's 1991 purchase of Lafayette-class frigates, in exchange for settling out of court a massive lawsuit related to the scandal, a local newspaper reported yesterday.

In 2003 the Taiwanese navy filed a suit in the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), Paris against France Thomson-CSF (now known as Thales), demanding that the firm return US$99 million -- an amount the Navy claims is equivalent to the kickbacks the company received during the purchase of six frigates from France.

Members of a special prosecutorial panel investigating the high-profile scandal told the Chinese-language newspaper the Liberty Times (the Taipei Times' sister newspaper) that probes had revealed evidence of irregularities in the deal, and public pressure was mounting on the French government to resolve the scandal. Since Taiwan seemed likely to win the lawsuit against Thales, the French government has softened its attitude and now hopes to negotiate a settlement with Taiwan out of court, the panel members said in the report.

The panel members told the Liberty Times they would like to ask the French government to declassify a confidential archive about the warships deal as a conditions for settling the suit.

The French government has four times rejected French judges' requests to declassify the confidential archive, citing national security.

Meanwhile, Tu Cheng Chun-chu (涂鄭春菊), a key witness in the murder case of navy Captain Yin Ching-feng (尹清楓), will return to Taiwan and talk to the press about the scandal, a DPP legislator said yesterday on condition on anonymity. Tu was the legal agent for a German shipbuilding company.

"Tu will return to Taiwan tonight and she is planning to say something of importance about the scandal, which might astonish Taiwan, China and France," he said.

Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) caucus whip Ker Chien-ming (柯建銘) yesterday said that the truth about the Lafayette scandal would exceed anything people could imagine, and urged law enforcement agencies to speed up their investigations in order to unravel the case.

In reaction to the story run by the Liberty Times yesterday that said that there had been progress in the case in recent days, Ker said yesterday that the Lafayette scandal was the largest scandal in Taiwan's history and it was imperative that the case be resolved.

"As far as I know, France has found a lot of new evidence and its decoding of this case is beyond our imagination. But recently, people in Taiwan have paid too much attention to the corruption scandal involving President Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) son-in-law Chao Chien-ming (趙建銘)," Ker said.

In response to Ker, Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Pan Wei-kang said that the DPP's was bringing up the Lafayette scandal at this time in order to shift the focus away from the government's recent scandals and to try to influence the year-end Taipei mayoral election.

Pan referred to the impact of the scandal on the KMT's Taipei mayoral candidate Hau Long-bin (郝龍斌), whose father Hau Pei-tsun (郝柏村) was then the premier and stands accused of taking kickbacks from the frigate deal.

"We also hope that the Lafayette scandal will be cleared up as soon as possible, but the government shouldn't regard the investigation into the scandal as a means to protect itself and attack opposition parties," Pan said.

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